Sneak Peek: This story will appear in the April 1 edition of Global Golf Post.
As a rule, Masters contestants are the ones who make news in early April. They are the ones who hit the shots, make the putts, generate the drama, inspire the roars. But during the 2018 tournament, newly anointed Augusta National Golf Club chairman Fred Ridley grabbed headlines when he announced the establishment of a women’s amateur competition to be held each April, the week before the Masters, with the final round staged at Augusta National. The revelation stunned many media members gathered in the interview room for the chairman’s annual press conference. It even seemed to surprise the gaggle of green-jacketed members in the back of the room. Several of them looked at each other with both astonishment and approval as Ridley outlined his plans for the Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship.
It was bold, especially coming as it did only months after Ridley, a Florida lawyer and the winner of the 1975 U.S. Amateur, succeeded Billy Payne as chairman of the club and the Masters tournament. Nearly a year later, Augusta National is making final preparations for the inaugural 54-hole, stroke-play competition, which will feature an international field of 72 women athletes, all of whom were proffered invitations. The first two rounds are taking place April 3 and 4 at Champions Retreat Golf Club in nearby Evans, Ga., a 27-hole complex with each nine designed by Masters legends Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, respectively. The field will be cut to 30 players after 36 holes, and the final round will be held at the home of the Masters on Saturday, April 6, after all invitees play a practice round at Augusta National the day before.
Recently, the 66-year-old Ridley sat down for an exclusive interview with Global Golf Post to discuss his decision to create the ANWA and what he hopes it will accomplish:
How long had you been considering a women’s tournament before actually announcing it?
It was something I had been thinking about. I have three daughters, and they love golf. They are not only golfers, but also huge golf fans. That was part of it, but I was also inspired by what we have accomplished in Asia and Latin America (with the Asia-Pacific and Latin America Amateur championships) and then at Augusta National with the Drive, Chip & Putt Championship. I just felt like this was an opportunity to serve and give back to a really important segment of the game.
If you go back to our founders, Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones, they believed that Augusta National had and has an obligation to promote and support the game by giving back.
“Certainly, we’ll have assistance in conducting the championship from a competitive perspective. But because the event will finish up at Augusta National, and the entire tournament is in the Augusta, Ga., area, we felt it was appropriate that we take this on ourselves.” – Fred Ridley
Their way of doing that was starting the Masters Tournament in 1934. But the club has a history and a culture of working with others to give back to the game. The Asia-Pacific Amateur is an example of that. The Latin America Amateur and Drive, Chip & Putt, too.
As I thought more about it and the statement we could make in support of women’s golf, I felt that to be really sincere about it, we had to offer the best we had and that was Augusta National. Logistically, that was a really big challenge. When I first spoke about the idea with my closest advisers at the club, after I became chairman, they almost fell off the couch. They liked the idea. But they also understood that the logistics of doing it so soon, and doing it the week before the Masters was going to be difficult.
How will the Augusta National Women’s Amateur help advance women’s golf?
Given the organic excitement that has built up before the event, we can see that it is going to be a great motivator and inspiring to this segment of golfers. Those that compete will go back to their hometowns and colleges and have great stories to share. And hopefully that will catch on and create more interest. We have significant support from our sponsors, as we do in Asia and Latin America, and significant support from our television partner as well (in this case, NBC Sports, which will broadcast the final round of the ANWA live for three hours).
What you have done in Asia and Latin America have been partnerships with other golf organizations, such as the R&A and the USGA. But the Women’s Amateur is strictly an Augusta National initiative. Why is that?
Certainly, we’ll have assistance in conducting the championship from a competitive perspective. But because the event will finish up at Augusta National, and the entire tournament is in the Augusta, Ga., area, we felt it was appropriate that we take this on ourselves.
Home page photo: Andrew Redington, Getty Images
Top photo: Fred Ridley watches the honorary first tee shots before the first round at the 2018 Masters. David J. Phillip, AP
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